The Texas Longhorns' Thanksgiving day win over Washington was helpful for more than just adding a second victory to the win column. It also means that today Shaka Smart's team gets to play the 2-2 Michigan Wolverines, and not the Charlotte 49ers.
So a win today will potentially help the Longhorns in March.
And what will that win take? First off, don't let the two losses fool you. Michigan's losses have come against Xavier (who look to be very strong) and Connecticut. The Wolverines are very good.
A Look at Michigan
Last season, the Michigan Wolverines suffered through a down year, but so far in this one John Beilein has his offense cooking. Currently the 12th rated offense nationally in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, Michigan is doing the things that Beilein's teams have always done: they are valuing the basketball and burning teams from beyond the arc (Michigan has hit 42 percent of their threes so far this year).
The star of the Wolverines is 6-7 senior Caris LeVert, who passed on last summer's NBA draft and decided to return to Ann Arbor for his final college season. Not much needs to be said about LeVert at this point, as pretty much every fan of college basketball has come to know his game. LeVert can do just about everything that you need to do on the offensive end of a basketball court, and is the sort of player for whom traditional positional definitions do not seem relevant. He is a dangerous shooter, can create off the dribble, draws fouls, and is excellent at making plays for his teammates.
The other name that college basketball fans will know is junior point guard Derrick Walton. He works together with LeVert to trigger things in Michigan's offense, and so far this season has been outstanding. He plays with the ball, setting up teammates, and also plays off the ball when LeVert his handling. When working off the ball in Beilein's whirling dervish of an offense, Walton is a knock down shooter who through his career has hit 41 percent from three point range.
The space around LeVert and Walton is frequently occupied by a group of offensively gifted players, most of whom can hit shots from long range.The bulk of the minutes so far are going to 6-6 junior Zak Irvin, 6-6 sophomore Aubrey Dawkins, and 6-8 sophomore Duncan Robinson. Irvin is a little more involved in the playmaking elements of Beilein's offense than Dawkins and Robinson. None of these three will hesitate to put the ball up.
Several other players will rotate through the game, including 5-11 senior Spike Albrecht, who played a lot more last season when Walton was injured. You may remember him as the little-used reserve player who played out of his mind for a half while Trey Burke sat with foul trouble during the 2013 national championship game.
I haven't said much about the big men for Michigan yet, but frankly they are of secondary importance on this team. Beilein will rotate through the trio of 6-9 sophomore Ricky Doyle, 6-10 freshman D.J. Wilson, and 6-10 freshman Mortitz Wagner. Doyle will likely get the start and the greatest fraction of minutes. He is mostly in the game to rebound and give Michigan a little bit more size. Wilson will come into the game shooting, as so far this year he has already put up seven three point attempts in fairly limited minutes.
This is a tough match up for Texas
Historically, this particular group of Texas Longhorns have struggled when going up against teams that put many offensively-minded perimeter players on the floor together. This has been demonstrated over and over in games against Iowa State and Oklahoma over the last few seasons.
This sort of team gives Texas trouble precisely because it neutralizes one of the Longhorns greatest strengths -- size on the interior.
The addition of more pressure on defense this year may help, but Michigan is as well situated to deal with a pressure defense as anyone. That is because the Wolverines have multiple ball handlers on the floor much of the time, including the 6-7 LeVert, who has the height to see over traps, and won't be at all disturbed if pressure forces him into the role of point guard for a game. (It is at least possible that he will play the role of primary ball handler at the next level.)
The one thing that Michigan isn't likely to do is hurt Texas on the offensive glass, which is an area that has been a struggle so far for Texas. (And if the Wolverines do go to the offensive boards against Texas, it is a sign of real trouble in this area.)
But hey, it isn't all gloom and doom. There are all sorts of ways a game like this could break in Texas' favor. Perhaps the Longhorns can match Michigan offensively by hitting some shots from long range, and can take advantage of their size by going to the offensive glass.
The game tips off a little past 6 PM CST, and will air on AXS TV.